I realize that when I like something, I dont use swear words nearly as much.
Stick in the Mud is the first official adventure for Chaos Scar. Its for level 1 characters, and actually wont provide enough XP to net a level (a bit over half, I think). There's only about five encounters, making it a little longer than your typical delve. All in all it has this nostalgic feel of when I played Diablo 2 and went into the Den of Evil: it was sweet, short, and I got some levels and loot for my troubles.
I'm curious if Wizards is going to go this route for all their adventures, as it seems sufficient for a night of gaming (five encounters is about what I'd expect my group to plow through given 3-4 hours time), but also has the preparation advantage since the backstory isnt super complex or necessarily linked to larger events. If you have the prep time then you as a DM could link it into future adventures or other events, but if you dont then I think its great for people without a lot of time on their hands.
There are three suggested hooks to get the players going. One is for them to retrieve a staff for an ancestor of the dude that made the keep, and another gives you a cash bounty per bullywug head (the XP reward is also boosted if you kill them all). My favorite though is the second hook where a NPC asks you to scrape mud off of them and bring it back for some kind of magical experiment.
I really like how one of the quests is that a NPC wants you to bring back mud samples taken from various bullywug types. He gives you a one time payment of 30 gp for each individual monster (croaker, mucker, twitcher, and mud lord). It'll be interesting to see how people react to this sort of immersive monster harvesting project. Also? The XP reward goes up if you collect it from all four.
Its got my interest so far, but how does the actual adventure part hold up?
The first encounter was surprisingly engaging despite its simple layout. It takes place in the ruined foundations of the keep build by the sorcerer-dude, and is a square area with lots of missing walls and debris. The missing rooms make it somewhat like a maze, which would let players use some dynamic movement and tactics. Since the outer walls are also damaged, you could approach this encounter using stealth try and net surprise, but you could also launch a pincer attack by coming in from two ways. I think that it caters to both tactical players and the ones that just want to kick in the door and start hacking...or both.
The next encounter occurs after you go underground, in a study. Its much more narrow than the ruined keep, but its underground so thats to be expected. There are a few terrain features that players can manipulate: braziers, tables, and bookshelves (oh my). The braziers can be toppled over to provide concealment, the tables can be used as cover, and the bookshelves can be...hopped onto with a...DC 20 Athletics? Whaaa?
Mind you, these shelves arent standing up, they are already knocked over. I dont know about you, but if I knock my shelves over that I could get on them extremely easily. I mean, even if I couldnt jump on top I can still fucking climb something thats barely a foot-and-a-half high. The author also makes a not to remember the -2 penalty for the mud, but I'm not sure if he's already included it or what. The old DM screen lists a level 1 hard DC as 20, but I'd say its more of a moderate thing. I would drop the DC to 15 and then up it to 17 because of the mud.
I dont want to spoil the rest of the encounters, but the author does a good job of repeating terrain features so that players can learn what to do with them in one encounter and use it in the immediate future. Also, there is a slight mix up on monsters, so its not just a repetitive grind of bullywugs. Better yet? Unlike the first Scales of War adventure the composition makes sense. He includes narrative bits for the bullywugs, such as by having them taunt players in Primordial. Its sweet, its short, and it delivers. This is bad for me since I'm on a DMing hiatus because of school, and I really want to fucking run this.